Friday, July 30, 2010

More Real Life Inspiration and the Danger of Preconceptions

I see real life true stories all the time that I think are way funnier than most of the movies and TV shows I see. Check out this recent one from about a bear getting stuck in a car.

What's the funniest aspect of this article? Is it that the bear climbed inside the car to get at an old peanut butter sandwich? That the door slammed behind the bear trapping him inside? That he started to panic and thrash around and starting honking the horn, accidentally freeing the parking brake and rolling down a hill? That the deputies had to open the car door with a rope so the angry bear wouldn't maul them as he was freed?

Or do you agree with my kids, that the funniest part is the "present" that the bear left on the front seat? No matter, the point is that there are many aspects to the story, and an infinite number of ways you could translate this event into an entertaining short film, depending on the point-of-view you used (the bear? The neighbors? The owner of the car? The police?).

I know animation students around the world are heading back to school soon and many of them will face the quandry that many have faced before: what subject will my student film be about? And looking to real life can provide you will completely original inspiration.

I first read this little blurb on The Onion three years ago when it first appeared and I never forgot it. I always love it when people come up with imaginative and creative explanations for the unremarkable non-events that happen to us every day. This paragraph is maybe the most brilliant piece of writing I've ever seen and hopefully you will find it as inspiring as I did. Any number of great short films could be made from that kind of an idea: explaining every day mundane events as the work of unseen forces, a battle between good and evil even.

Next is a short piece from "The Colbert Report" that also left a big impression on me. It's a great story of some petty bureaucrat holding people to "rules" that nobody cares about. Watch how the producers and writers of the show are able to turn this small town annoyance into a funny piece by the way they present both sides in the kind of hard-hitting style that "Dateline" or "60 Minutes" uses to tell the kind of bigger, more serious stories that those programs cover.

It's about four minutes long and it doesn't get into the story right away...there's a bit of Stephen talking about other stuff first. You can watch it here.

The thing about this one that strikes me is that the story isn't really told from one point of view or the other. The piece shows everyone in an unflattering light and pokes gentle fun at everyone involved. They don't take sides. They don't treat the kid like an innocent who's being punished by an unfair tyrannical system like you might see on a more serious news show. They edit the piece to make everyone involved look nutty!

And that brings me to a bigger topic. I think that our preconceptions can inhibit our development as artists.

The defines "preconceptions" as a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation.

When we hold strong opinions then we naturally aren't open to new information that can challenge those opinions. Artists need to be open to new ideas in order to grow and improve as artists. So do yourself a favor and examine your own preconceptions. Where dd your preconceptions come from? Are you sure they're true? And are they hindering you?

This is a tricky, sensitive thing to write about. People's personal beliefs are more sacred to them than anything and they don't like it when they are challenged. So bear with me here and read with an open mind....

I have known people who wouldn't attend life drawing classes because they felt their religion would forbid looking at nude people. I respect their beliefs and I know it took a lot of bravery on their part to stand by their convictions. I know they feel like they made the right choice and I applaud them for that. But I also think they probably didn't get as good an education in life drawing as they could have, so their preconceptions held them back.

Years ago I worked with a female writer who wrote great female characters but her male characters just weren't quite as great. There was something lacking in the men in her script and I couldn't figure out what it was that I felt was missing. But as I talked to her and got to know her better I realized that she had certain preconceptions about men in general and, in my opinion, some resentment towards the whole male gender. We need to be able to climb into our characters and inhabit them and have a deep affection for them on some level in order to bring them to life, and I have to say that it's uncomfortable for me to talk about, but over the years I think I've seen artists of both gender that had strong opinions about the opposite sex and it held back their ability to breathe life into their work. It kept them from creating unique and special three-dimensional characters. Their characters never quite broke out of the preconceptions that their creators ad.

Obviously any prejudices we carry around are going to keep us from seeing others in an objective light. I think artists need to be as objective as humanly possible to do their job. One of the biggest challenges to an artist is that we must always surprise the audience. If we don't constantly give them the unexpected they will lose interest quickly. And what's more unsurprising or more of a cliche than a prejudiced view of other people?

The internet is full of blogs where people post artwork and say "look how horrible this is, it's terrible, what kind of idiot would do this garbage?" It's good to be critical and we should never treat shoddy work like it's genius but also you can learn a lot by studying artwork that doesn't fit into your usual taste. Somebody put some time and effort into every piece of art that you see and chances are there's something well done about it and something you could learn from it that you won't get if you discard it automatically. So be open and don't reject things out of hand; ask yourself why the artist made the choices they did and are there some successful aspects to the work?

People who have narrow tastes and are completely intolerant of things outside that range don't develop as quickly as artists who accept a wide range of styles and are open to more influences (in my opinion anyway).

When I was a kid Time magazine had an ad (or was it Life magazine?) that showed Picasso just starting a painting on a canvas. The text of the ad said something about how Picasso "woke up every day and saw the world anew like a kid". I think that's a pretty good goal for artists and also a fairly decent recipe for happiness in general.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pres Romanilios 1963-2010

Pres Romanillos lost his battle with leukemia last Saturday. He was 47.

I didn't know Pres all that well but we used to sit in cubicles next to each other during the making of "Aladdin". At that time he was a rough inbetweener for Glen Keane and he enabled Glen to crank out massive amounts of footage of Aladdin. Glen would do the key poses and Pres would fill in the breakdown and "inbetween" drawings to flesh out the acting and motion and Glen could move onto the next scene. I remember Pres telling me that Glen was able to do 50 feet in a week once (an unbelievable amount for Disney - most animators dream of being able to do 5 feet a week consistently) because of Pres's help. Pres was an excellent draftsman and very good at drawing in Glen's style so he was an invaluable help to Glen.

Pres had his own style, of course, and his dream back then was to become an animator in his own right (as was mine). He had gone to the Art Center in Pasadena and, like a lot of CalArts students, I was amazed at how great an education in drawing he had received compared to the one I had gotten. I think that he worried a bit that he had missed out on the animation training that us CalArtians had received and he hoped that it wouldn't hold him back. He needn't have worried, though, shortly after that he became a full-fledged animator and went on to work on many timeless characters and films.

I parted ways with the studio during "Aladdin" and Pres went to work in Florida while I was gone from the studio so I lost touch with him. He was always a very nice person (and well-known as a snappy dresser in those days) and an extraordinary artist. I am sorry to hear of his health troubles and it's sad to think that he is gone now.

During the making of "Aladdin" he had an old animation desk that was covered in years of graphite rubbed into the wood surface. I remember being shocked one day to see that he was using an eraser to "carve out" likenesses of Aladdin, Jasmine and the Genie from the black surface of his desk. How he had the time or energy I don't know but that was Pres! He was always enthusiastic and tireless.

That was my strongest memory of Pres and I wanted to write down that story. So when I checked the LA Times obituary to double-check his birth year I was amazed to see that a picture of Pres and that very desk accompanies his obituary! Click here to see the photo. Apparently he later added Pocahontas to the desk as well.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Kick in the Head, Part Seven

This final one is a little bit different.

One day I was on and I saw a story about how Conan O'Brien's closing words on his last show had really affected a lot of people and caused them to change their lives.

“All I ask of you is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism - it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” – Conan O’Brien

Everywhere I've ever worked, certain things have always been the same. Our jobs are very difficult and there are a lot of long hours. In the Feature Animation world, you can work for years on a picture and never really know if the film you're working on will get finished, be released, and if so, will ever really be any good. The story process of making a Feature is filled with experimentation, blind alleys and false starts. People in every department tend to get nervous about the amount of work ahead and they have to have a lot of faith in order to believe that the ultimate product will be worth all the long hours and effort.

It takes a lot more energy to stay positive and have faith in the process. It can be easier to give in to the temptation to become bitter and cynical. Working long hours and seeing screenings of the movie that don't quite work can easily lead to complaining behind closed doors and becoming cynical about the whole thing.

Some people fall into this type of attitude because their personality is disposed to be that way. And some people are easily influenced by their co-workers and they end up becoming negative because that's all they hear from their office mates. And some people just don't want to sound like a simpleton, and they know they'll be ostracized by their friends if they try to stay positive, so they just give in.

Certainly there's never any shortage of people on the internet willing to be negative about our films before they're even completed and that can have a devastating effect on the morale of our crews as well.

As with any kind of faith, there's always way more reasons to give up and be cynical than to stay positive and believe that things will turn out for the best and that all the hard work will be worth it (I'm not a religious man, by the way, but I do have a lot of faith in the story process).

So the only argument I can offer is to ask you what kind of people you, personally, would rather be around. What type of people do you like to work with? Spend time with? Date? Marry? What kind of attitude would you like your kids to have?

If you became a supervisor, or director, or the head of a studio, what type of people would you want working on your crew? What would you want them to be saying about you and your movie when you're not around?

Cynicism and bitterness are very unpleasant and unattractive qualities. Everyone gets discouraged and frustrated and needs to express that sometimes. There's nothing wrong with that....otherwise we wouldn't be human. Relentless optimism in the face of all evidence to the contrary can be just as unattractive (and scary) as the other side of the coin. But once people become permanently embittered and react to everything with cynicism it becomes impossible for them to do great work. To do great work you need to be inspired at least a little bit and embittered people are incapable of any amount of inspiration. Once you become cynical it's very difficult to keep developing as an artist. We need fresh eyes and hope to keep seeing the world anew and learning and growing artistically.

So stay as positive as you can and always try to see the situation from the other side. If you were directing the project you're working on, would you look forward to meetings with you? Or would you dread them because your negative attitude is discouraging?

It's easy to fall into being cynical but it's also a very quick way to turn a job that can be uplifting and amazing into a living misery and your own personal Hell. If you bother to read this blog I know you're interested in doing great work and staying inspired at any cost. I know how hard that can be. Believe me, I do. But to do great work and create something of value it's one of the prices we have to pay.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Kick in the Head, Part Six

I'm beating a familiar drum with this one, so I'll keep it short.

Bring something personal to your work to make it great.

To be a great animator, story artist, layout person or any kind of artist, it takes more than just the ability to draw well or the technical ability to do the job well. To be truly great at our jobs, we have to be able to crawl inside our worlds and characters and understand them from the inside. We have to be able to know how they would act in any situation, what drives them, what their deepest desires and biggest fears are. These are all what makes a great actor able to give a great performance, and we are no different. It’s easy with our rushed schedules and overwhelming amount of workload to lose sight of the only really important part of our jobs - creating great characters and telling compelling stories.

Only someone who has ever had a cat lay on them would be able to feel this action in their mind and capture the expressions that really show how this feels. There's a real gravity and sincerity to the way it's handled, and anyone that watches the cartoon "Feed the Kitty" will react to this with a smile of recognition if they've ever had a cat curl up on them. You can't fake that kind of sincerity and there's no short cut to finding great ideas like this. You have to live life and experience it and then know how and when to apply those experiences to your work to give your worlds a sense that they are real places with actual living, breathing characters in them.

Every person has a unique viewpoint that has been created by their life experiences. As much as you may admire another artist’s work, you can never have the same life experiences that caused them to be the artist they are. Bring your singular viewpoint to your work and make an original statement. Don’t repeat what’s already been done.

Why do I sound this constant drumbeat? I guess because I see this as the greatest challenge facing animation today. We are in a period where more animation is produced for film, television, video games and other media than ever before. And I think much of it is disposable and completely unmemorable, which is a shame.

If you're like me you grew up watching Warner Brothers cartoons on television. The best of those feature nothing more than great personalities in conflict with each other (a sly, clever rabbit and a manic, explosive duck try to convince a naive hunter to shot the other one instead of themselves) and that's all you need to generate great entertainment. Sure, the Warner Bros. cartoons occasionally had references to other movies and pop culture nods but those were the bits that went over our heads as kids. So when I see TV shows that do nothing more than reference other movies or shows or pop culture, it's never really funny or inventive, and it invariably feels like a missed opportunity. Great characters will always be the most entertaining and inventive part of our business and will always be the cornerstone of any movie or TV show that gets the best reviews, biggest audiences and is remembered fondly for years to come.

So don't spend all of your time watching movies and sitting in the dark drawing cartoons. To do great work you have to have other interests and experiences to draw from. These don't have to be monumental, earth-shattering experiences, if you just take the time to be aware of the world around you and be present as your life happens. Just the simple everyday experience of having a cat curl up on you can lead to an original, compelling moment of animation that will bring a smile and a laugh to your audience and can live on forever.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Off to London to Buy a Fat Pig

I'm in Great Britain right now! Cool, huh? Unless you already live there, in which case, not as much, I suppose.

In any case new posts will continue to publish while I'm gone! But if you leave a comment or e-mail me in the next week or so don't be surprised if you don't hear from me.

Hope everyone is having a great summer!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Not a Good Movie, but Nice Titles by Robert McGinnis

Recently I talked about some "Hidden Gems" - movies I streamed on Netflix that I had never heard of before but enjoyed very much.

Of course, you can't find that many gems (and more recommendations to come) without discovering some lumpy, misshapen rocks. And fossilized dinosaur poo.

Based on my "viewing habits" Netflix recommended "The Hallelujah Trail" because it is also a western starring Burt Lancaster and was directed by John Sturges who has a pretty decent track record.

So I watched it. All of it.

And I thought it was horrible in every way. So I am NOT recommending "The Hallelujah Trail".

I actually wrote a long analysis of what's wrong with the movie but I hate to dump on things mercilessly and I don't like to sound snarky and negative. So I decided against posting it.

If you want to know one thing about the movie that sort of signifies all that is wrong with it, then check this out: Martin Landau (one of my favorite actors of all time) plays an Indian named "Chief-Walks-Stooped-Over" because he.......walks stooped over.

And that's ALL that Landau has to do in the movie, is walk stooped over. There's nothing more for him to play. There's no other funny or interesting thing about his character. He's just a guy that walks bent over and is called "Chief-Walks-Stooped-Over" and that's just about as funny or interesting as this movie gets. Which is to say, not very.

If you have never experienced tedium and want to see what it feels like, then by all means, watch it. Otherwise, stay away.

So why even bring it up? Well, because the opening and closing titles are paintings done by the illustrator Robert McGinnis. And they're awesome! I love the level of caricature in these. So I screencaptured all of the opening titles from the Netflix stream. That's why they're not such great quality. Sorry. I suppose I could buy the DVD and screencapture them, but I'm not going to buy this stinker. Sorry, I have done a lot for the sake of this blog, but I can't bring myself to do that.

I can't help but think that even these titles reflect the lackadaisical slapdash feel of the rest of the film. They don't seem to be lit very well. They seem to be reflecting some of the lights that were shining on them on the left hand side of the images (it's more pronounced in some than in others).

I hope you enjoy these, because at least that would help me feel better about the time I spent watching this film. And let me know if you really like them, because I can go back and screencapture all of the closing credits, if people really want me to. Let me know!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two Plugs

I will be involved with a panel at the San Diego Comic Con this year to promote the upcoming film "Tangled". The official description from the SDCC website:

Walt Disney Animation Studios: Character Creation! Throughout the years, Walt Disney Animation Studios has brought us some of the most memorable, unique, and appealing onscreen characters. Disney Animation's upcoming release Tangled introduces a fresh and irresistible new bunch. Nathan Greno and Byron Howard (directors), Glen Keane (animation supervisor), and other artists from Tangled discuss the creation of their unforgettable characters.

It will be on Thursday, July 22nd from 2:00-3:00 in Room 5AB (according to their website as of today, anyway).

In case you were wondering, "other artists from Tangled" means Jin Kim and myself, as far as I know. And, yes, printing our two names would have been exactly as many words as "other artists from Tangled" but they knew that if they mentioned Jin and myself by name there would never have been a room big enough to hold all the crazy screaming and crying fans. So they left us off. Very smart!

The best part is this: the night before the panel I will be arriving home on a plane from England (unless another volcano explodes or something and my flight doesn't make it), and then getting up early and driving down to San Diego the next day, so who knows what kind of mental state and/or level of coherence I'll even be in during the panel. So come and see what kind of strange thing I might say!

Just kidding, I'm sure I'll be fine and no more befuddled and confused than my usual level of befuddlement and confusion, and please come because I assure you everyone else will sound very smart and will have a lot of interesting things to say about the movie and I'm sure there will be a lot of cool artwork shown.

I couldn't attend last year's but by all accounts the CTN Animation Expo was a great event for both newcomers to the field and industry veterans. I'm hoping I can make it this year myself. Here's their official press release:

The Creative Talent Network Animation Expo (CTN-X) this Nov 19-21st announces a host of special events for professional artists, art students and industry executives. Attendees will enjoy: Portfolio Reviews, “Raising the Bar Recruiting", Talent Mixers, Breakfast with the Pros, screenings, art contests judged by industry leaders, live demonstrations from world class talent and more. After hours, the fun continues with “CTN-X @ Nite” networking mixers and VIP Receptions.

CTN-X takes place at the Burbank Marriott Convention Center with ample discounted parking, conveniently located across the street from the Burbank Airport and Amtrak Station. Register today online to receive 10% off with the special Seven Camels discount code CAMELSX10 on the early bird prices of $60 for a day pass and $130 for a 3-day pass. Discounted rates good until July 31st are available to students, active military and professional industry organizations. Space limited so sign up today. For more information and to register, please visit: or call, (800) 604-2238.

Here's the official website.

Hope to see you in San Diego in a couple of weeks!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Some Hidden Film Gems, and Some Guy Named Burt Lancaster...Who Knew?!?

So, I mentioned I just finished up on a project. At the tail end of the film me (and my fellow artists) spent long hours cleaning up drawings and making them very pretty so that a version of the movie could be screened for the public in a very polished and beautiful form.

To be honest it got a little tedious at times (but it was totally worth it, the screening went great and everything looked awesome). So to alleviate the tedium of cleaning up sketches day after day I made great use of my Netflix subscription.

There are a ton of great movies that you can stream directly over your computer (or Wii, or Xbox, or PS3 I think, or your Roku device) if you subscribe to Netflix. And it's unlimited - you can stream as much as you want. Most of their streaming choices are older movies, although many new ones are available too. So as I drew I spent many hours watching (well, mostly "listening", because I was drawing, but you know what I mean) movies on my computer. And I discovered a bunch of great movies I'd never even heard of before.

So in case some of you are ever in the same situation I'll share some recommendations with you. But as I said I only listened to and half-watched these films and I sort of wonder if maybe they just seemed good because they relieved my tedium so well. So take my advice with a grain of salt please! Also these type of films my not be everybody's cup of tea, exactly...I'll try to give an honest taste of what type of film they are in my description.

Also, in general, I definitely do not recommend watching movies while you're trying to animate or storyboard (or any other type of artistic job)! Personally I don't believe in even listening to music while animating or storyboarding! That's right, you heard me. Personally I find that listening to music uses a part of my brain that I need to do my job, and I think my work suffers when I listen to music. I know many people will disagree but that's my opinion based on my experience. The only time I ever listen to music or watch movies is when I'm cleaning up drawings and I need something to keep me going out of sheer desperation.

Okay, one more side note before we get to today's recommendations (and more coming soon). Anyone ever hear of the actor Burt Lancaster? I mean we've all heard of him, right? But I'd swear I've never seen a Burt Lancaster movie before, and all of a sudden I discovered a bunch, and now I'm kind of shocked that he doesn't seem to be remembered as well as some of his contemporaries. Because I thought he was really good....but then again, I mostly listened to these films like I said. Maybe I'm missing something? Does he have an odd nervous tick that I missed because I was drawing and not watching? Anyway...

I haven't watched "The Manchurian Candidate" in a long time but I liked it when I saw it originally. I think it's the only movie directed by John Frankenheimer that I've ever seen...until "The Train". "The Train" is a WWII thriller about a group of French resistance fighters trying to keep a train of famous French paintings in France long enough for the Allies to liberate France. The Germans are trying to get the train to Germany before the Allies catch up. Burt Lancaster plays a French railroad official who ends up forced to drive the train, knowing that if the train reaches Germany he and his fellow French rail workers will be killed and the paintings will be lost to France forever. The Germans know that if they can get the paintings to Germany that they will be able to use them to finance a renewed war effort.

Frankenheimer apparently called it "the last Black and White action film" and I'll have to take his word for it. There were a lot of (I assume) great French character actors that rounded out the cast and gave the film a lot of humor and heart. Many of the other actors seemed so clearly French that it might bother some that Lancaster stands out as so clearly not French...but I found his performance so good that I didn't mind. Also Paul Schofield is great as the German commander determined to get the paintings out of France, and he's an English actor, so I'm sure people who are German will watch the movie and say "that guy's clearly not German".

It's a very smart and suspenseful thriller and holds up better than many films from that era. There was a lot of entertainment mined from how the French tried to constantly fool the Germans in many inventive ways and I never really knew what was going to happen next. I'm a sucker for WWII movies and I thought this one was so well done that I was shocked that I'd never heard about it before.

Another film that also felt ahead of it's time is the Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper western "Vera Cruz". It also features bit parts by a young Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson. Cooper and Lancaster play two gunmen who get involved in the Mexican Revolution (the one against Maximilian) and end up working together (and against each other) to steal a fortune in gold. This film is much darker than I would have thought, as it was made in the early 50's. Lancaster's character is not a nice guy and does some surprisingly selfish and shocking things to make sure he gets his share of the wealth. Many critics seem to think this film was a big inspiration for Sergio Leone's westerns and I believe it. In fact the plot of this film is somewhat similar to Leone's "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" (one of my favorite films) and so I was, again, surprised I'd never heard of it. Like WWII movies I'm a sucker for Westerns. If you like Westerns too check this one out.

Another Western starring Lancaster (along with Lee Marvin, Woody Strode and Jack Palance) is "The Professionals". Once again, I have to say that this film felt surprisingly modern. And also I can't believe I'd never heard of it before! Certainly there are a lot worse westerns that are more well-known. A ragtag band of misfits (is there any other kind?) is hired by a man to rescue his wife from a notorious Mexican outlaw (played by Palance). It's a lot of fun. For those that quibble about such things, Palance is about as convincing as a Mexican as Lancaster is as a Frenchman. So if that's going to bother you then you've been warned. But I really enjoyed this movie. I haven't seem a lot of Lee Marvin movies but after seeing this I definitely get why he has such a legendary reputation.

The best part about streaming these movies is that you can start them and then, if you're not really enjoying them, you can just turn them off and all you've lost is the time you spent watching them. All the streaming you want is included in your basic monthly fee (as far as I know...check to make sure, I don't know about all the plans!) and so why not try some films you've never heard of before? It's a great way to experiment and discover some hidden gems.

More coming soon!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

"The New School Marm" part 2

There were a couple of very thoughtful comments left after the last post. I thought they warranted some more discussion. So here's part two on this painting...

Rafi wondered about the dog at the bottom of the painting, and if the painting would be better without the dog. He asked if adding the dog might have make too much of a frame around the woman, and isn't the contrast on her strong enough to hold your eye in the frame without the addition of the dog? It's a good question.

Here's the original painting again...

...and the original, minus the dog.

Personally, I think the painting needs something in that spot. Without anything there my eye gets "stuck" in that area where the dog used to be, it can't quite make the transition over to the stagecoach, and my eye starts to slide out the bottom of the painting. And without the dog the picture becomes too symmetrical to the top of the picture is an empty blank area and so is the bottom.

I think the bottom area does need some element to help frame the woman but the dog sticks out because the dog is not handled as naturally as the other subjects in the painting. He's posed in a flat profile and posed in a bit of a stiff way, with all four of his legs parallel.

Also it's worth pointing out when looking at paintings on the internet it's hard to know what the original purpose was and how big the picture was going to be reproduced once it was done. That can affect the composition as well. What may look cluttered on the internet may have been a much larger painting in real life and may have been meant for a size that may have dictated some of the compositional choices.

Rafi was also asking about my comments about how compositional elements are there to "keep your eye from leaving the frame" and wondering if there was more to that theory. There's been a lot written about that and keeping the viewer's eye from sliding out of the picture seems to be the heart of most studies on composition. Including these great pages from Andrew Loomis's "Creative Illustration".

Also Poore's "Pictorial Composition" and Graham's "Composing Pictures" cover this extensively as well.

Rodney left comments wondering if the picture would have been better off if the coach was still there (instead of heading off) and also he wondered if it seems a little awkward and unrealistic that she'd still standing there like that, after the coach has left.

I get his point. But I like that the coach is gives the painting a feeling of finality. She's definitely staying and she and the town are stuck with each other...permanently. If the coach was still there you'd feel like she might still get back on. And you might wonder who else was getting off...or it might look like she was leaving the town after one last look around instead of just arriving...etc. I can think of a bunch of reasons why I like the coach leaving. Mostly I think I like it because everyone else in the frame seems like they're in motion, or just paused in the middle of an action, while by contrast she's just standing there stiffly and with perfect posture.

But of course it's all a personal choice and I know Rodney probably has a good version in his head that would work great.

And I guess to some it might feel a little "unrealistic" that she's just planted there, standing like that. But I think it's great because of how much power and authority it gives her and really helps tell the story in a clear way. So I like how she's standing there, taking it all in, probably thinking about how she would change this place and whip it into shape. If she were walking I don't think that would come through as clearly.

Maybe it's a mistake for me to write about paintings this way. After all it's all subjective anyway and I wouldn't want to influence the way other people see and interpret this stuff. I guess the reason I do it is because the only way I've ever really learned anything about art is by looking at art and asking myself why the artist made the choices that they did. That's the only way to learn about art, I think....analyze the choices that other artists made and see how they affect the finished work. And ask yourself if those choices are effective. Are they additive? Or do they diminish the piece?

Of course none of us can ever be in the artist's head and truly know what they were thinking. So we have to guess, based on experience. And because we're all different we all reach different conclusions. So don't ever think that my analysis is "correct" or the only way to interpret anything. Do your own interpreting, but hopefully hearing my thoughts will help stir yours up and get your mind in the practice of asking yourself,

"Why did the artist make that choice?"

Many times I've heard people say that they think many things that happen in a work of art are happy accidents or unconscious choices that just happen to work. In my experience as an artist, great artists have control over every element of their work and every choice is a conscious one, made for a number of reasons. So the more you train yourself to analyze and ask why an artist did what they did, the better insight you'll have into why some art seems to work beautifully and other art seems to fall flat or miss the mark.